Savour the flavours
Experience a world of flavour with tea – from light florals to malty blacks and everything in between
Once you start learning about true tea, you’ll be amazed at how varied the flavours from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, can actually be. You can find everything from sweet caramels to rich florals, and from robust malted grains to savoury vegetals. Each tea type has a classic range of expected flavours and teas are often judged based on how well they conform to the category, but producers are also always experimenting to produce something new and exclusive, and we love that too!
The buds and leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are turned into tea which falls into one of six categories: white, green, oolong, black, dark and yellow tea. Each category has its own unique processing method which then brings out some distinctive flavours in the finished tea.
Taste with your eyes – the colour of both the dry leaf and the tea liquor will influence the flavours you experience in your mouth and nose.
Smell the dry leaf – place a small amount of leaf in a warm, dry cup, curl your hands around it an inhale, notice the intensity and types of aroma coming from the leaf.
Inhale the aroma of the tea liquor – once brewed a different set of volatile compounds are released from the leaf. Take a deep breath in through your nose and enjoy the tea’s aroma.
Smell the wet leaf – as the wet leaf cools its aroma will change, bringing out
a range of different aromatics.
Taste the tea – pay attention to the texture, taste and flavour on your palate, let it linger and see which flavours and sensations develop in the aftertaste.
The six tea categories
White – floral, lightly fruity
White teas are the least processed type of tea. The leaves are withered in the sun, which softens some of the astringent flavours. White teas are generally light in colour and aroma. If the tea contains a large number of buds – like a silver needle tea made only from buds – the fine white hairs on the outside of the buds can give the tea a thicker, fuller feeling in the mouth.
Green – nutty, vegetal, grassy, savoury
Green teas are characterised by their green colour and unoxidised leaf. There are two distinct categories of green tea – steam-fired and pan-fired greens. Depending on the firing method the tea will have a distinct flavour. Steam-fired teas such as Japanese gkyokuro or fukamushicha will often have very savoury, umami and vegetal flavour. Pan-fired green teas for example from China may be nuttier with more fruity and floral flavours.
Oolong – creamy, floral, nutty, green, fruity, roasted, rocky
Oolong teas vary widely in colour and form but this special category has a unifying flavour and softness. Oolong teas go through one of the most intense processing methods during which they are sun withered, rolled multiple times and partially oxidised before they are dried and sorted. Depending on the type of plant, the growing region and the processing method, the flavours range from lightly oxidised with cream or vegetal notes to more highly oxidised fruits and florals, or heavily oxidised roasted and rocky teas. They often have a full mouthfeel and the higher quality teas will have a lasting finish.
Black – malted grains, cacao, sweet, caramel, floral, fruity
Black teas are fully oxidised and often have a fuller more robust flavour than the other categories. Black teas made from broken or crushed leaves can have a very strong and intense tea flavour, while black teas made from whole leaves and buds are much softer and smoother. Without any added flavourings black teas can naturally be both fruity and floral as well as malty, chocolaty and spicy. A tea’s character is shaped by factors including the cultivar of plant it is made from, the growing region, the harvest and the processing method. Classic black tea blends such as English Breakfast use tea from multiple regions to create a balance of flavour and aroma.
Dark and yellow – earthy, caramel, woody, fruity, syrupy, buttery
Yellow teas have a soothing quality and notes of clarified butter caused by the mellowing process they go through. Dark teas are partially fermented and depending on the speed of fermentation, can be anything from thick and rich to fruity and complex. Cooked, or shu Puer teas are a classic example. Their unique earthy and woody flavour can be very calming and work well after a heavy meal.
Copy supplied by the European Tea Society